Joni Brenner’s interest in skulls as the internal architecture of the head is connected to her long-standing work with portraiture, and has extended in recent years to include an arresting exploration of large-scale skulls in bronze and, more recently, watercolour on canvas as in Os. The mixture of control and unpredictability of the watercolour medium on canvasses of this scale has produced radiant images of shadow and light, evoking landscapes of the mind barely contained within the particular volumes and curves of the cranium.
Since 1996 Joni Brenner has been practising professionally as an artist with a focus on portraiture, always challenging traditional notions of likeness. For her, portraits exist on the threshold between past and future, between life and death, and her engagement with portraiture revolves around her acute awareness of transience, mortality and how the unrelenting passing of time fuels that ineradicable desire to capture the present.
Brenner says, ‘Working with portraiture means working with an awareness of time passing, and it brings mortality and the fragility of being into sharp focus. I know from the way I work, from being an artist, from making portraits, that living is a process of dying but also that in the knowledge of mortality, is life.’
These same concerns of transience and time passing inform her images of skulls, which never evoke danger or the ghoulish, and rather act as meditations on being alive. They mark presence just as much as they do absence, and in this way they are a focused natural extension of her exploration of portraits. Choice of medium is always significant in Brenner’s work—the fragility of unfired clay, the longevity associated with oils, granite surfaces alluding to gravemarkers—and here, the loose but authoritative handling of the watercolour in Os - pooled sections that dry producing cranial suture-like marks alongside more linear structural marks, gives a concurrent sense of robustness and fluidity; watercolour at once bone-like, and also somehow fleshed or living.
Elizabeth Burroughs. (2015) At the Still Point, London, Art First
Art First London, At the Still Point, 7 October – 14 November 2015.
Elizabeth Burroughs. (2015) At the Still Point, London: Art First. Illustrated in colour on page 28.